Hello everyone! As we are now halfway through the WIT program, it’s time for an update! Since my last post, I have had so many more experiences here in Wellington. For one thing, my trainer, Shayna Simon, was able to come and visit. She taught me here for three days and helped me through a little schooling show held at Hampton Green Farm, where I rode through the FEI pony team test for the first time ever and was able to get some helpful feedback from a judge. I think I did fairly well for my first time and Magnes was super. We received a 63%. I have also attended lectures on nutrition, lameness, lunging, Purina feed, and Neue Schule bits, as well as a discussion with Olympians Ali Brock and Kasey-Perry Glass. The WITees were fortunate enough to attend a Land Rover Eventing Showcase, visit Catherine Haddad’s training barn, and meet Nicolas Fyffe & David Marcus. In addition, I attended a clinic at JJ Tate’s barn with Charles de Kunffy, who trained with classical masters at the Hungarian National Riding Academy.
I have had the opportunity to volunteer each week at Robert Dover’s American Equestrians Got Talent, attend multiple Lunch and Learns at the Winter Equestrian Festival, and witnessed Laura Graves score over 80% in the AGDF FEI Grand Prix Freestyles CDI 5*. However, the most memorable thing I have done since my last post is interview Steffen Peters. I am so thankful that he took the time to meet with me! I have shared my interview with him below. Enjoy! 🙂
Bi-Coastal Equestrian Idol: An Interview with Steffen Peters
Monday, February 6, 2017 | By: Alexa Brown
Steffen Peters is a four-time Olympic dressage rider and three-time USEF Equestrian of the Year who is an idol to many. He, along with his wife, Shannon, operate a training facility in San Diego, CA. Steffen will be competing here in Wellington, FL for a few weeks and I can’t wait to watch him show. While participating in Lendon Gray’s Winter Intensive Training Program, I had the incredible opportunity to interview him, my equestrian idol. I am so grateful that Steffen allowed me to interview him! He had amazing answers to all of my questions and I really appreciate him taking the time to meet with me!
Q: I am 12 years old and have been riding dressage for 3 years. How old were you when you started riding?
SP: I was 8 years old. And the way it started was my sister was 1 year older and she was riding at a little pony club and she kept asking me to come with her to the pony club and for 6 weeks I was like “No, I’m not quite sure if that’s really something for me” and then after 6 weeks she succeeded and I finally came with her so it’s all her fault. She started it.
Q: What were your goals when you were my age?
SP: You know, in those days, I was actually more interested in jumping and I wanted to do the 3-day event. I thought that was really cool to do the first day dressage, then cross country then jumping. So that’s actually what I did for when I was 12, 13 years old. And at that time of course I was dreaming about the Olympic Games but that was so far; that was such a high reach that I kept watching it, always excited about it but I wasn’t quite sure that would ever be a realistic dream. But I certainly had the dream.
Q: If you were my age today, how do you think your goals would be different?
SP: You know, that’s a very good question and it’s a very hard question because you can’t erase that memory of 4 Olympics. So, I think the goal would be to go to even more international shows. I saw early on very good riders but I didn’t know enough about the top international riders. So to answer your question, I think it would be watching, in any equestrian sport, the top riders.
Q: I started doing online school so I could schedule everything around my riding. How did you handle your school and riding together?
SP: Well, I tell you what, I don’t think your teachers and your parents are going to use me as an example because I always made the horses my priority and not so much school! So, I apologize to your teachers and your parents. But, it turned out pretty good! But, my parents were so generous with the ponies and later on purchasing horses for us that they made school a big requirement so I did the school more for them than for myself. But obviously finished high school and made sure my education was in place.
Q: So, you are my equestrian idol. Who is yours and why do you admire them?
SP: Thank you! I would have to say it was Jo Hinnemann. I learned from him, I worked at his barn for 6 years, and then there was an era of so many good riders. There was Herbert Rehbein, Klaus Balkenhol, Harry Boldt, I’m sure I’m forgetting a few, Dr. Klimke. It was an era where the old masters were still competing but if you ask me specifically for one person it would have to be Jo Hinnemann.
Q: Do you have a favorite horse or one that stood out as the most influential that you’ve ridden?
SP: There is no doubt, it was Ravel. Your very first international championship, like a world cup, is something you’ll never forget and any win after that at a major championship is great but it’s not as great as the first one and Ravel was the horse that delivered this not just for me, but for the USA and for our entire Team Peters. So I’m always very grateful for Ravel.
Q: What is the number 1 thing you see young riders struggle with today?
SP: I think my answer would be the true understanding of self-carriage in a horse. That a horse learns to use his own muscles or her own muscles to carry themselves so that the rider is so effective with his/her aids that the horse goes into the arena in a beautiful frame in 3 very clear gaits. Because the movements itself depend on that and I find that we practice sometimes so many movements without true suppleness and true self-carriage.
Q: I personally get very nervous before a show. Do you get nervous before a big show?
SP: Yes. Honestly, everybody gets nervous and if somebody tells you that they’re not getting nervous, I don’t believe it. It’s just that you get used to it. We have such an amazing federation that sends us to Europe and exposes us to that pressure. So you get used to it and of course now after 4 Olympic Games, it always gets a little bit easier. But I have to admit, this year in Rio the pressure was huge because I was of course the oldest one on the team, in fact I was twice as old as the rest of my teammates, and after 4 Olympics there is a certain expectation from a rider thats done it so many times. I realized when the games were over, how much pressure I really put on myself and having a horse that’s not always the most reliable horse in the show arena, such as Legolas, that obviously makes you a bit more nervous. We had some shows even last year here that were not good enough for the Olympic Games. So there was always that question in there “Is he going to loose his mind a little bit or is he going to be perfect?” and the great thing is that he did 3 great tests in Rio, especially for the second and the third tests I wasn’t as nervous anymore.
Q: Do you do anything both mentally or physically to prepare for a show? Do you have any specific dietary routines?
SP: First of all, I am very lucky that my wife is a hell of a cook! She cooks very healthy. And when I feel like after the Christmas season I have a few pounds too many, then I don’t eat any carbs after 5:00 PM. I increase my workout routine a little bit – and I think anybody aiming for the Olympic levels should have a workout routine. That’s as far as the physical preparation. As far as mental preparation, I always make sure I go to the show arena and don’t just go through the test, I picture where I’m going to be at what time of the test, how I have to ride the short side before certain movements. There is a lot of visualization that’s going on before any show.
Q: Besides riding, I do art, play the cello, and play video games. Do you have any hobbies outside of riding?
SP: Yes. I’m… trying to find a good word for it because the hobby is pretty extreme and pretty advanced. I love to fly very large remote control gliders and we fly them in San Diego right off a cliff. It’s 600 ft up so we fly it over the ocean. There’s no motor so you’re just using nature. And it’s mentally a very challenging hobby; you could even call it sport, and I find that it is so important to have a hobby where you can’t think of anything else. You just enjoy what you’re doing but still focusing tremendously on something that you love and it’s certainly a passion.
Q: What are your goals while you are here in Wellington?
SP: I have to say, after the Olympics in Rio, that was such a huge milestone, winning and contributing to a team bronze medal. Since then, it’s just a whole lot more fun; again I mentioned the pressure before so now it’s competing- yes, but it’s not an Olympic year, yes- it’s a World Cup year but that’s not a team competition, that’s a whole lot more, I wouldn’t say relaxing but it’s a whole lot less pressure. So, honestly I always have a blast when I come here, it’s fun to see friends, fun to work with a lot of students, that’s the goal for the fun part. As far as competing, of course Laura and Diddy are extremely tough to beat but if we go into the show arena without the desire to win then we should not compete.
Q: Can you describe what a typical day at the barn is like for you?
SP: We like to start here at 7:00 AM, that’s usually when I start with Rosie. And Rosie is a horse that needs a lot of walking because that’s where she gets a little tense so I spend usually an hour with her but that is at least 20-25 minutes of walking. Then I usually ride Bailarino. That’s the upcoming PSG – I1 horse. And then Dawn usually rides her horses. She rides Aristo or Legolas afterwards. So those are the four horses we usually work with here in the morning and then I teach in the afternoon and enjoy Wellington.
Q: What would you like to see improve with your horses while you are here?
SP: My goal with Rosie is that she stays as relaxed as she is here. This is an electric arena. It’s great exposure for the horse so I’d like to see that she is more relaxed than last year. And with Bailarino it’s quite the opposite. He is a very laid back horse, a bit on the lazy side so if he wakes up and shows that energy that Rosie has I would be super happy with that.
Q: Two years ago, I put together a First level freestyle with my Haflinger pony and we left all of the lyrics in. What is your opinion on leaving in lyrics in freestyles?
SP: Do you have all of the lyrics in? (Me: For the most part, yes.) For the most part then it’s okay. I think if we have a little bit more music than lyrics, I think it’s fine and especially at First Level and at your age, I think that’s perfectly appropriate. Later on towards the international levels, we need to think a bit more about the judge’s taste and they like some lyrics but not dominating. So I think for now, I would love to hear your freestyle and I bet I would love the lyrics in it.
Q: Lastly, what do you think about the future of dressage and how do you think we can make it a more spectator-friendly sport?
SP: There’s no doubt, look what’s happening here in Wellington. Sometimes we get a bigger crowd here than some of the shows in Europe. So I think that the shows that are done here are so convenient for the riders, the horses, for the spectators to be at a show and live in the surrounding area. This is the answer and I see some amazing VIP tables, I see some great seats for the crowds, it’s very well organized, and some people say it always has the standard and the flavor of European shows and I personally think the shows here are better than some of the European shows.